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“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.” - Rachel Naomi Remen


True listening goes beyond hearing the words that are spoken. It means opening ourselves to deeply understand the experience of another person. Listening allows you to step inside each family member’s shoes and see, hear, and feel the world from their perspective. This in turn allows you to learn more about them and have a true understanding of their needs, concerns, struggles, fears, hopes and desires.


How Listening Helps


It is especially important to tune in to a loved one when they are going through difficult times and experiencing emotions such as sorrow, fear, shame, anger, etc. In times of emotional distress, having someone to listen to them lovingly reminds them that they are not invisible or alone. At the same time, you should also be there to share the positive emotions. Calm, peace, amusement, joy, affection and a host of other positive feelings shared with a loved one will foster a sense of greater connection, deeper mutual involvement and synergy.


Families who feel loved and affirmed are less likely to snap, quarrel and fight.


Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills


Show Genuine Interest


First and foremost, you must want to hear what your family member has to say. This means you are willing to take the time and effort to listen with an objective to understand.


Be a Sounding Board


Ask them to expand on what they are feeling. Allowing them to express feelings provides a good emotional release for them and might be more helpful than just focusing on the facts of their situation. Convey that their feelings are reasonable given the circumstances they are experiencing. Do not shrug off how they feel or tell them that they are overreacting.


Reframe What You Hear


Summarize and convey your understanding of what they are saying so they know you are paying attention and understanding clearly. For example, if your family member is talking about problems at work, you might find yourself saying, “It looks like things are quite hostile. You sound like you’re feeling overwhelmed.”


Focus on Them


It is tempting to bring up a related story of your own, but keep the focus on them until they feel better. They will appreciate the focused attention and this will help them feel genuinely cared for and understood.


Note Non-Verbal Cues


Observe your loved one’s facial expressions, pitch and tone of voice. Pause, clarify and ask questions. Give them space to be silent, to think, reflect and respond when ready.


Be Open


Refrain from jumping to conclusions. Recognise individuality. If you have strong pre-conceived ideas about someone when they are talking, they often shut down and feel hurt or resentful. Patient listening gives the other person a sense of freedom to speak their mind in a safe space. Recognise also that your loved one is a separate individual with their own life and identity. Recognising their separateness will enable you to allow them to have their own feelings and own way of perceiving things without imposing your feelings and beliefs on them.


Develop a Solution Together


Rather than giving advice in the beginning, which hinders further exploration of feelings and other communication, wait until they have gotten their feelings out, then help them brainstorm for solutions. If you help them come up with ideas and look at the pros and cons of each, they are likely to come up with a solution that makes them feel empowered.



Brenner, Gail. Want to improve your relationships? Listen Up! Goodlife Zen. 


Cookerly, Richard J. Listening with love. What is Love, Dr. Cookerly? 


Jani, Dhara. How to help someone feel loved and understood. Tiny Buddha. 


Scott, Elizabeth. (2012). Build friendships with good listening skills. About.com Stress Management.


Winch, Guy. (2011). The antidote to anger and frustration. Psychology Today.


Article first appeared in Families for Life (hyperlink www.familiesforlife.sg) on Sep 2015. Republished with permission.

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